By Logan Hatch
In the first of a two-game road trip, No. 2 women’s volleyball (13-4, 7-2 Pac-12) lost for the first time in four weeks, letting a six-game win streak be cut by UCLA (11-7, 6-3 Pac-12) Friday night in Los Angeles.
It was Stanford’s seventh straight game without senior star outside hitter and 2018 AVCA Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer. The Cardinal had been faring well enough without Plummer, but the team’s win streak came to a brutal, abrupt and stunning end at the hands of the unranked Bruins in three sets. This loss marks the end of quite a few streaks the Cardinal had going for them, the first being that this is the first time they have lost to an unranked opponent in over three years, with their last such loss coming at the hands of an unranked Arizona squad back in 2016.
Friday’s loss is also Stanford’s fourth of the season, the most since Kevin Hambly became head coach back in 2017. Stanford finished 30-4 that year and made a trip to the NCAA Final Four. Finally, and perhaps the worst streak to break for morale, this game marks the first time Stanford has been swept in a match since the 2015 season, ending a 119-game run of winning at least one set per match.
This season, the difference lies in how early these losses have come, being that the Cardinal have received these four losses just over halfway through the season. Stanford is no stranger to adversity though, as the last time the Cardinal had lost as many games to this point was in 2016, when the team finished 27-7 but still ended the season with a national championship.
For the UCLA fan, this game was a fun-to-watch all out offensive showcase with the Bruins finishing up the match with 43 kills alongside .291 hitting. For the Cardinal fan, this game was an exposition in miscommunication that resulted in a snooze-fest, ending in the Cardinal surrendering to UCLA with a meager .157 hitting percentage worsened by their final set where the Cardinal hit just .118.
The theme of miscommunication began early in the first set for Stanford and ended up carrying through for the rest of the night. The Stanford players’ inability to locate each other on the floor culminated in its purest form midway through the third set, when senior opposite hitter Audriana Fitzmorris ran directly underneath a pass to the net, likely assuming a setter was in tow, leaving the ball to fall quite gently to the ground. Fitzmorris finished the night with nine kills on .250 hitting.
A loss is never something a team wants to encounter, especially a defending NCAA Championship team like Stanford, but this loss must have been a little more than bittersweet for graduate middle blocker Madeline Gates. This was the first time she had been on the Bruins’ home court since graduating from UCLA in 2018. Her night was by no means a bad one, though, as she finished with eight kills and led the team with a .261 hitting efficiency. Unfortunately, her homecoming night was cut short by her former teammates, as they took no mercy on Gates and the Cardinal.
Friday’s game was not all sadness and sorrow, however. Senior libero Morgan Hentz dug her way into the Stanford history books, as she eclipsed the 2,000 mark for total digs in a career. Her 12 digs on the night pushed her career total to 2,010, only seven away from the second place mark set by then-senior Kyle Gilbert in 2014. With at least 11 games left in the season, excluding playoffs, and considering Hentz’s career average of 16.75 digs per game, it is more than likely that Hentz will surpass the Stanford record holder Gabi Ailes’ 2,147 digs and find herself atop the record books later in the season.
The Cardinal do not have much time to lament this game, as they have a date with USC at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Sunday at 1 p.m. PT. It will be interesting to see if the No. 2 seed in the nation and defending National Champions can dig their way out of this hole or at least find a light at the end of the tunnel.